LONDON: Jose Mourinho is not a universally popular replacement with Tottenham fans for the abruptly sacked Mauricio Pochettino. But he could not have made a better start. Spurs’ 3-2 win away to West Ham was their first away victory in the Premier League for 10 months.
Spurs began like a reinvigorated team with three goals in 49 minutes from Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura and Harry Kane then ended the match like the old ‘Spursy’ side by conceding two late goals to Michail Antonio and Angelo Ogbonna and nearly having to settle for a draw.
Victory maintained Mourinho’s record of remaining unbeaten in first games in charge going back to his first job at Benfica in 2000. He said: “Yesterday in the dressing room I felt the players were a bit concerned that maybe I didn’t like their music. But the dressing room during the week is their home, they can do what they want.
“When you go away, I like music after the game because a victory is something that you have to value. So I was happy today: the music was loud and I don’t care what music it is. I just like the feeling that the boys are happy. They had had a very, very difficult week, arriving back from their national teams to find a new guy, new training sessions, new ideas.”
The new broom was evident even before kickoff. Carlos Lalin, Tottenham’s new fitness coach, has changed the warm-up routine, introducing five-a-side drills.
Mourinho stuck with Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 formation but with Eric Dier starting in midfield for only the third time this season. Mourinho once tried to sign Dier for Manchester United but he had fallen been out of favour with Pochettino. Christian Eriksen appeared only as a late substitute in line with Mourinho’s hint that the Dane’s game-time will be limited if he remains set on leaving the club.
All the players’ workrate improved and they fought harder for the second balls. The attacking build-up was also quicker, aided by an instruction to goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga not to play out from the back. Under Pochettino the full-backs were expected to constantly overlap, whereas at the London Stadium Serge Aurier and Ben Davies rarely moved forward. If one went up the other held to form a back three.
Dele Alli, the out-of-form England midfielder, looked more like his old self and helped create two of the goals. Mourinho had already challenged him to step up to the challenge. In training Mourinho asked: “Are you Dele Alli or his brother.” The player replied: “Dele Alli.” Mourinho: “OK, then play like him then.”